Rank #1: 003 Brenda Sue Schaefer
This weeks case takes us to Louisville, KY. It's a case that happened when I was 4, but one that I grew up hearing about. It was a notorious case for the area. To this day, the case is told as a cautionary tale about how even the most guilty suspect can still get away with their crime.
The 5th amendment of the constitution of the united states of america, reads in part “nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb”.
In today's terms, it means that if you are found guilty if a crime like murder, you can't be tried for the same crime again. It keeps prosecutors from trying a case over and over until they find a jury willing to convict.
It's meant to keep our system fair.
But like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In this case, that road lead to a home in Louisville, Ky. Where 1 person would die, and 2 people would get away with it, despite irrefutable proof being found
But, as sometimes happens, karma had the final say.
Brenda Sue Schaefer was 36 years old, loved by her family, friends, and coworkers. Born and raised in Louisville. Married right out of high school, the marriage only lasted 4 years, and the separation was hard on Brenda due to her strong religious beliefs. Afterwards, Brenda moved back in with her parents in a suburb outside of the main city.
Her next serious relationship was with dentist Jim Rush, this relationship would last 8 years, but ended due to disagreements and Jim's drinking.
In 1986, at age 34 Brenda's life took a turn, and unfortunately in a story that is all too familiar, red flags were ignored.
Brenda met 48 year old Melvin Ignatow in September of 1986. He was the father of 3 grown children, and shared a house with his mother. No one in Brenda's life really understood what she saw in him, but for whatever reason, the relationship continued. After only two months of dating, Ignatow proposed to Brenda. Ignoring her doubts, Brenda agreed, but refused to set a date for a wedding. Afterwards as is usually the case, Ignatows true personality came out. He became more controlling and abusive as time went on. Most of which Brenda tried to keep hidden from everyone. Brenda, a catholic, weary from failures of past relationships, and wanting to make things work, made excuses for Mel's behavior. He would berate her for being frigid, wanted her to engage in sexual acts she wasn't comfortable with, and eventually would start giving her pills. Pills that made her forgot what happened the night before. Once, Brenda even awoke to find Ignatow holding a rag soaked in chloroform near her face. He claimed he was only trying to help her relax.
Brenda eventually confided to friends. They told her to leave. They worried.
Despite not knowing what was really going on, Brenda's family still deeply disliked Mel. He was arrogant and demanding. They wanted Brenda to leave.
Brenda's boss, Dr Spalding, also saw part of this dark side. Ignatow would call Brenda repeatedly at work. Sometimes to yell at her.
Brenda still stayed.
Until 1988. 2 years into her relationship with Ignatow, Brenda had finally decided to leave. She had even started talking to her old boyfriend, Jim Rush again.
Ignatow could sense the end was coming, and he was not going to allow it to happen. Not on Brenda's terms. Ignatow contacted his ex girlfriend, Mary Ann Shore. Shore, who had continued a sexual relationship with ignatow despite his being with Brenda, would be described by the media and everyone else as overweight and unattractive compared to the slim and pretty Brenda. I think this characterization is unfair. What made Shore ugly was her personality, not her looks. She was selfish, rude, and did whatever Ignatow wanted.
Even the worst thing imaginable.
For a month, Ignatow and Shore plotted what they would do to an unsuspecting Brenda. They dug a grave in the woods near Shores house that was 6 feet deep, got their stories straight, and Ignatow even went so far as to make a checklist of the things he wanted to do to Brenda before killing her.
They finally put their plan into action on September 23rd, 1988.
That day Brenda and Ignatow agreed to meet so that Brenda could return some jewelry and officially break off the relationship.
Brenda ended up in Ignatows car, and Ignatow drove her to Shores house, claiming that he needed to pick something up.
As soon as they entered the house, Shore locked the door behind them, and the assault began. While Shore took dozens of photos, Ignatow made Brenda strip, grovel, and repeat his pre prepared script.
The assault began with Brenda being tied to a coffee table, beaten, sexually assaulted. Then taken to a bedroom, tied down, and sexually assaulted. The abuse and torture went on for hours. When Mel had finally checked everything off his list, he soaked a rag in chloroform and held it to Brenda's face until she was dead.
Afterwards, she was tied into a fetal position, wrapped in garbage bags, and buried.
At just 36 years old, just when she was finally ready to be free of her abusive relationship, Brenda Sue Schaefer was dead. But the indignity of what happened to her didn't stop with her death. The court system would deliver one last blow. It would shock a city, devastate Brenda's family, and reveal how easily some murderers can go free.
Brenda's family immediately knew something was wrong. Brenda's mother, who at the time was suffering from lupus, stayed up most of the night waiting for Brenda to come home. It was unlike her to not show up when she said she would, and by 3am, her mother was deeply concerned.
The next day, the 24th, Brenda's mother called Ignatow to see if he knew where Brenda was. Ignatow claimed he hadn't seen her since they parted company the previous day. Ignatow then contacted police to report Brenda missing.
On September 25th, Brenda's car was found abandoned on the side of Interstate 65. One of the rear tires was flat, the windows were smashed, and the radio had been stolen.
Where the car was found was only a half mile from Brenda's house. So police thought that had the car broken down, Brenda would have easily walked home.
When police went to the family news to tell the family Brenda's car had been located, Brenda's brothers strongly suspected she was dead. They also thought they knew who did it. When Ignatow arrived at the family home to help figure out where Brenda could be, the family found his crying and concern fake.
Weeks went by with no sign of Brenda. Her brother Tom, and his girlfriend Melinda went to police to inform them of their suspicions about Ignatows involvement. Before She went missing, Brenda had confided to Melinda that Ignatow had been sexually abusing her, and that she wanted out.
Police did eventually interview Ignatow. When they met him at his house, they were surprised that Ignatow had already prepared a written list of the days events.
Mel's timeline of that day went as follows:
He claimed that Brenda picked him up around 3pm
They went to boat show, but changed their minds because it was raining, and did not exit the car.
Instead they parked and talked.
Afterwards he said the two drove to an art fair, but once again did not exit the car.
Eventually Brenda dropped him off at home and left. He hadn't seen her since.
Ignatow even admitted he looked like a suspect.
Police were extremely suspicious, but had no evidence or leads to go on.
By february of 1989, the police had run out of leads.
But the people in Brenda's life had not given up. Brenda's boss, Dr. Spalding, knew that Ignatow had killed Brenda. He even went on local news saying so. He didn't have any proof, but he knew. People in Louisville knew too. The local paper, the Courier journal printed an article pointing to Mel Ignatow.
Frustrated that nothing was happening, Dr Spalding sent an anonymous letter to Ignatow in march of 1989. The letter threatened to kill Ignatow unless he revealed where Brenda's body was.
Spalding was arrested, and charged with threatening Ignatow.
In August of 1989 Mel was a witness in the trial of Spalding, Ignatow once again, under oath, claimed that he didn't know what had happened to Brenda.
In the end, Spalding was fined $300. He was happy to pay.
After that trial, in October of 1989, a little over a year since Brenda went missing, the local prosecutor decided to convene a grand jury and bring Ignatow in for questioning. This is where Ignatow would make his first mistake. During questioning, he mentioned Mary Ann Shore and that they had started their relationship again a month after Brenda vanished, something that the police weren't aware of before.
Detective brought Shore in for questioning, but no matter what they said or tactics they used, even after failing a polygraph test.
Shore still wasn't talking.
The grand jury decided to subpoena Shore. During questioning, Shore got caught in a lie after claiming she had only ever met Brenda once.
This caused Shore to get up and flea the room.
It all became to much for Shore and finally, during another round of questioning on Jan 9th 1990 she finally admitted that she had helped kill Brenda and knew where the body was.
She took a deal, she would plead guilty to tampering with evidence if she showed police the location of Brenda's body, and helped them catch Ignatow by wearing a wire.
Shore met with Ignatow and told him that the police had been pressuring her, and that she was worried the property behind her house would be developed soon.
Ignatow was furious, and berated Shore, explaining to her how she should deal with the police. Telling her that the hole they dug was deep enough. No one would find it.
He never actually mentioned the murder or Brenda.
But police thought they had enough, and on January 19th 1990 they arrested Ignatow at his home.
Despite thorough searches of Ignatow and Shores homes, no physical evidence was found that could tie ignatow to the murder.
Later that day, Brenda's body was finally recovered. Her family finally knew what had happened to Brenda. 6 months later, Brenda’s mother finally succumbed to her battle with Lupus. 7 months after that, Brenda’s father died.
Ignatows lawyer argued that his client wouldn't be able to get a fair trial in Louisville, so the judge agreed that the trial would be held in a different city about 100 miles away and the trial began in December of 1991.
It did not go well for the prosecutor. Shore, they key witness, performed badly on the stand. Dressed inappropriately and laughing, she didn't come across as credible. Ignatows lawyer used her behavior and testimony to claim that she was the real murderer of Brenda.
Since Brenda had been buried for over a year, the physical evidence on her body was gone, leaving the prosecutor with no evidence to tie Ignatow to the murder either.
Ignatows lawyer also argued that the audio was bad, and that you couldn't tell exactly what Ignatow was referring to being buried. Ignatows lawyer proposed that his client was actually referring to a safe that his clint and shore had buried.
For reasons that still confuse everyone else to this day, the jury only took 6 hours to decide that Melvin Ignatow was not guilty of murdering Brenda Sue Schaefer. He was cleared of all charges.
On December 23rd, 1991, Ignatow left the court a free man.
Louisville residents, the prosecutor, police, and even the judge were angry at the jurors. When pressed about their decision, the best reasoning the jurors had was that the case simply wasn't strong enough.
Mary Ann Shore, following through with her plea, was sentenced to 5 years in prison in February of 1992.
But prosecutors were not finished with Ignatow. Unable to convict him on murder, they decided to try and catch him on perjury charges.
They charged him with perjury over his testimony in the murder trial.
Detectives asked the new owners of Ignatows old house if they could search it again, but were denied. However luck would be on their side. Just a few days before Ignatows perjury trial began, a carpet installer working in Ignatows old house found an air vent hidden under some carpet. Inside he found something that would have changed the entire outcome of Ignatows murder trial. Inside the vent, wrapped in baggies, was the jewelry Brenda had taken to Ignatow the night of her murder. Along with the jewelry, dozens of rolls of undeveloped film. Police were called.
After developing the film, which resulted in over 100 pictures, a terrifying timeline of Brenda's last few hours emerged. Pictures from the beginning, to the end, of Brenda's assault and torture were on the film. And although Ignatows face was never in the frame, police were able to match moles on his body to the ones in the pictures.
Ignatow was convicted of perjury, and sentenced to 8 years in prison. During the sentencing, Ignatow made a statement admitting the the murder. During which he turned to the members of Brenda family in the court and said, “She died peacefully.”
But due to having previously been in jail when he awaited his murder trial and good behavior, he was released after just 5 years.
Prosecutors still weren't done.
They charged him for perjury again for lying under oath in the trial against Brenda's boss, Dr Spalding. Ignatow was found guilty again, and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
In 2004, Mary Ann Shore died while in hospice care at the age of 54.
Ignatow was released in 2006 and lived in a house just 4 miles from where he had murdered Brenda.
By all accounts, he was still as smug as ever but tried to keep to himself.
In 2008, fate, karma, or whatever you call it, finally caught up to him.
On September 1st, 2008, almost 20 years after he tied Brenda to a coffee table to rape and torture her, Melvin Ignatow was found dead in his apartment.
Ignatow had bled to death, alone. He had fallen on his coffee table and cut open his head and arm.
If you’re being abused and need help, you can contact the national domestic violence hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or rape, even at the hands of your partner or spouse, you can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1 800 656 4673.
Jun 18 2018
Rank #2: 08 Larissa Sam
Larissa Sam went missing from Indianapolis Indiana in 2015
Jun 08 2019
Rank #3: 007 Alianna DeFreeze
The school system, witnesses, and the public failed 14yo Alianna Defreeze when she was abducted in Ohio.
But her parents are trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
May 06 2019
Rank #4: 006 Marsa Gipson
A rock thrown off an overpass, a woman dead, her murder unsolved. Can Marsa Gipsons murder be solved before its too late?This weeks episode is a quick one from Indiana.
Apr 08 2019
Rank #5: 005 Henryville II: The Library
Mar 11 2019